Medical Marijuana Bill Takes Root in Ohio

May 10, 2010 – Depending on how you read the tea leaves, support for some sort of marijuana legalization might be at an all-time high among Americans.

The results of an Associated Press/CNBC poll released in April showed 55 percent of Americans opposed an end to prohibition. But when those polled were asked to compare the hypothetical regulation of marijuana to that of alcohol, 56 percent said marijuana regulation should be the same or less strict than the regulation of alcohol.

In Ohio, Democrat State Rep. Kenny Yuko of Richmond Heights, a Cleveland suburb, recently introduced House Bill 478, which would legalize the use, growth and dispensing of medical marijuana for persons suffering from debilitating conditions including cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease.

“This is a very easy remedy for therapeutic relief,” Yuko says.

Yuko would like to see a number of licensed nurseries around the state growing and dispensing marijuana in limited amounts to patients whose doctors have issued them a prescription. He is careful to distinguish his plan from California-style dispensaries, which typically include neighborhood shops operating like liquor stores.

“It’s not about Cheech and Chong,” he says. “The government would control it, and it would be in limited quantities.”

Yuko believes most Ohioans support medical marijuana legalization and cited a few anecdotal tales from his constituents about the benefits of marijuana use in easing a variety of symptoms. There are elderly people seeking to buy marijuana on the street and they live in fear of arrest or a violent encounter on the street, he adds. The alternatives are living with pain or turning to dangerous, addictive narcotics.

“(Then) instead of going to a chiropractor, they wind up going to a drug rehab program,” he says.

Yuko, who has multiple sclerosis, says he’s never used marijuana medicinally or otherwise.

Locally, no state representatives except for Alicia Reece (D-Bond Hill) had their offices return telephone calls on this topic, and Reece herself wasn’t available for comment. State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township), who represents the west side of Hamilton County, did offer comments on the bill and says that, while he’s in support of medical marijuana he can’t support this particular bill.

“I would be happy to support it except for one small exception,” Seitz says. “It still exposes people to federal prosecution.”

Seitz notes that even though President Obama announced last year that medical marijuana dispensaries in states that have legalized the dispensaries would not be prosecuted under federal law, these dispensaries are still technically in violation of federal law.

“It’s an enlightened view of the Obama administration,” he says. “But what happens if he has a change of heart or the next administration takes office? While these concerns are perhaps fanciful with the Obama administration, they are not fanciful with administrations that may follow.”

Medical marijuana should be legalized, Seitz says, but at a federal level.

“I’ve read enough of the literature to be convinced that there’s a body of scientific evidence that shows that there are a variety of conditions with which marijuana is an appropriate part of the treatment,” he says.

There’s no rational reason to believe that the legalization of medical marijuana should lead to the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, Seitz adds. He calls this a “bugaboo” that doesn’t follow, comparing it to the use of opiates prescribed by doctors versus the illegal use of opiates by recreational drug users.

Federal lawmakers should make an exception in federal law for medical purposes, he says. Seitz believes that letting states decide on the legality of medical marijuana is consistent with Tea Party values and something he’d like to see that movement get behind.

“I detect a substantial streak of Libertarianism thought in the Tea Party,” Seitz says.

For his part, Yuko says there is an interest in the legislature in the bill but a lack of conviction among lawmakers; he isn’t optimistic about the bill’s passage.

“Obviously you can always hope you can make things happen, but realistically … it’s going to be a lengthy process,” Yuko says.

Kettering resident Tonya Davis, a victim of domestic violence 15 years ago that left her with crippling injuries to her spine and problems with her intestines, is a staunch supporter of the bill. Davis uses marijuana regularly to manage pain associated with her injuries.

“I eat it, I smoke it, I vaporize it, I do whatever I can do,” she says.

Davis relies on persons willing to “compassionately donate” marijuana to her since she fears prosecution if she were to go out and try to purchase it. Marijuana has eased her pain and has fewer side effects than prescribed drugs, she adds. Her experiences with OxyContin and morphine were overwhelmingly bad.

“Even the smallest dose would make me violently ill,” Davis says. “I would be so high I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t think to pay my bills. I had to try something else.”

Davis is shocked that state lawmakers are willing to support gambling at casinos or the rights of strip clubs to operate but are unwilling to recognize her simple, medical needs.

“My use of medical cannabis was so I could be a productive member of society,” she says. “I am really sick and no one can dispute that. I deserve a fighting chance.”

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